Someone recently asked me what I thought the difference was between happiness and joy…and how gratitude factors in. In the years that I’ve been saved, considering these things for myself, these are the conclusions I’ve framed into a reply:
We don’t find “happiness” in the Bible…we do find “happy”. But even that word is confusing. Comes from Middle English “hap” which has to do with chance or luck. As Christians, we know there is no such thing as either. Ours is a sovereign God who does all things by design. Even English dictionaries are a bit muddled on this point, defining “happy” as “delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing.” It would certainly seem happiness is contingent upon circumstances. Like the song from Oklahoma! states,
“Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day,
I got a beautiful feeling everything’s going my way!”
When things cease to go our way, happiness goes away as well. What? You mean feelings aren’t reliable? Oh dear. Don’t get me started! How often have you detected your “feelings” ebbing and flowing on a certain matter (or about a particular person) over a 24hr period? Be honest. This is what leads us down the perilous “Follow your heart” path. I have only one thing to say about that. Jeremiah 17:9.
I’ve seen “happy” translated (perhaps it was ESV) as “to be envied” or “prosperous”. Well, those are subjective terms, aren’t they? I mean, I may envy someone (in the best sense of course) for something, and that same thing may have no effect whatsoever upon you…it’s not an enviable thing. Same thing with prosperity…someone who owns a fleet of classic cars is not someone I’d envy or view as prosperous, although my husband might. I’d just imagine all the work, insurance, and upkeep! So, all that to say that happiness is subjective as well as fleeting. It has its roots in the tangible, and quite often the human heart may find satisfaction with a new thing for a time, but then is quickly unsatisfied again when something newer or better comes along. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, the eye is never satisfied.
However. Joy is a constant. It is found in God Himself. Just doing a word study on “joy” as well as “satisfied” reveals that true satiation comes from God alone…His likeness (Ps 17:15) and His peculiar blessings. I think Pauls’ epistle to the Philippians is a great illustration of joy in the midst of un-joyful circumstances. As well as the Savior Himself, who willingly endured the cross, despising the shame… for the “joy that was set before Him”.
I think we are more sensible of joy (and less prone to seek “happiness”) the closer we fellowship with the Lord. The deeper we delve into the Word, the more we make it our quest to know Him, the more inescapable the message of grace becomes. We understand more clearly who He is, we become much more honest and frank with ourselves about who we are…and when those two things transpire in tandem, the heart of a blood-bought Christian is overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude is an end result…it springs forth when we are pried away from the sense of entitlement that is naturally a part of the human fabric (and which is encouraged by the world, I might add), and we see with divine discernment that human beings left to themselves are terribly woeful creatures. Gratitude implies that we realize we are undeserving. I think joy and gratitude awaken at the same time.
Something I’ve thought about recently, is that I believe we are all hardwired for complete, perfect satisfaction. Adam and Eve had it in the garden. I don’t think the hankering ever went away. But now, we cannot have it because we are in a sin-tainted world, and we cram all kinds of things into that “God-shaped void”. Life becomes an endless cycle of, “I got what I asked for, but not what I wanted.” I believe this is why David wrote:
“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Ps. 16:11
We begin to understand joy only when we become regenerate… but we won’t understand its fulness in this earthly life.